A Cinnaminson woman’s blog exposes parents to affordable family events.
Watching a juggling act in a local park with her two children Wednesday, Maureen Schoenberger was shocked, but not surprised, to see Kyle, her rambunctious 3-year-old, climb onto the stage, tossing a couple rocks into the air, ready to join the act.
His rocks plunked to the ground, but, to the amusement of performers and attendants, the boy stole the show.
Kyle may not be a stage-ready juggler, but, as a teacher, wife, mother and successful blogger, his mom may be.
Like many parents, Schoenberger’s summer is filled with moments like this. She’s in a constant battle to keep Kyle and his sister Madeleine, 4, active and entertained through a recession summer without breaking the bank. But, while other parents are spending buckets full of cash at Jersey Shore arcades or trips to out-of-state theme parks, Schoenberger never spends more than $10, and rarely even spends that much, to quell her kids’ summertime blues.
And her forays into frugality have helped more than just her own family. Chronicling her exploits on the Family Penny Pincher blog (familypennypincher.blogspot.com), she’s garnered a sizeable following in only a few weeks. The blog, and its sister Facebook page, is designed by a busy mom for busy moms (and dads) looking for economical ways to keep their children entertained and active.
“I guess I’m the budget mom,” she says, reflecting on her newfound Web popularity. “There are a lot of ‘mom groups’ out there listing events and telling you what’s coming up, but they don’t specifically list the free or under $10 range. I’m hitting that specific area.”
Schoenberger, 36, of Cinnaminson, is a computer teacher at Milton H. Allen Elementary School in Medford. As a teacher, she’s got the summer to spend with her children, but doesn’t earn a paycheck. Two days after school let out, she says, she began logging an online journal of “free or nearly free” events. From there, she says, “it caught on like wildfire.”
A few friends noticed Schoenberger’s tips and forwarded it to their friends. Before she knew it, Schoenberger had more than 200 followers on Facebook and an influx of emails from public relations representatives begging her to feature their park or movie night or concert series. Despite their requests, Schoenberger isn’t interested in sacrificing her ideals.
“It’s $10 or less. People tell me ‘but this is such a good deal,’” she says. “I like free better, but I’ll compromise on 10 bucks.”
No surprise, coming from a computer teacher, the blog is expertly designed. The layout features slick flash animation and pictures that intentionally serve not as art, but to inform parents of the specific size and scope of venues.
Family Penny Pincher posts are quick reads. They’re reviews of parks, playgrounds, museums and play places wrapped in entertaining anecdotes and with a keen awareness of parenting issues. Most posts feature a breakdown of details explaining everything from the bathroom situation to eating areas. One even warns potential visitors of a misstep in Google Maps’ directions.
Schoenberger thinks her blog is just what parents need in this era of economic hardships and with more than 2,500 hits since June, it looks like she’s not alone.
“There are so many great affordable events out there. They’re not usually very highly advertised, but they’re there if you really look hard, the deals are there,” she says, “I started with parks and playgrounds and just started stumbling upon other free events. We’ve done a lot this summer spending very little money. You wouldn’t believe how many award-winning events we’ve been to on very little money.”
As the economy worsens, Schoenberger has been noticing a trend of kid-friendly outlets reaching out to parents on a budget. She cites the Garden State Discovery Museum’s “$5 after 5” discount as well as the Franklin Institute’s free community night every third Wednesday after 5 p.m.
In addition to parks and playgrounds, Family Penny Pincher turns its attention toward swim clubs, cultural events and educational opportunities from events at libraries for teens and tweens to movie nights in the park just for mom and dad.
“When I say family events, I’m talking about every member of the family,” she explains.
With the blog constantly on her mind, even her children are learning from her penny-wise ways.
“A lot of these places have great gift shops,” she says, “but I tell them their budget is $1 or less. Some people don’t like to talk to their children about it, but it’s OK to tell your kids you don’t have the money for everything. It makes them responsible.”
As for Congress, she has some advice for them too.
“They all better start packing their bags,” she says. “My biggest problem is they’re slashing a lot of programs like the libraries and the nonprofits that are holding events for free. Where are those who are really suffering going to expose their kids to culture?”
Schoenberger’s listings and reviews can be found at FamilyPennyPincher.blogspot.com or on Facebook at facebook.com/familypennypincher.